The comic horror film is a genre that has been around almost as long as movies themselves, although they have fallen out of fashion in recent years. Well, not so much fallen out of fashion as simply stunk. The Scary Movie franchise has tried desperately to resurrect this genre, but in reality those movies belong more to the parody genre. Some would make the argument that a comic horror film is itself a parody, but there is a difference. A more logical example would be the Eddie Murphy Disney vehicle Haunted Mansion, but let us never speak of that abortion again, shall we?
The Old Dark House
The Old Dark House, made in 1932, is perhaps the prototype for all comedic horror flicks to come in its wake. This movie was made by the king of the horror movie studios, Universal Studios, but was not made for terror like Dracula or Frankenstein or The Wolf Man. The Old Dark House has much more in common with The Invisible Man. It is a funny haunted house movie proving that such a thing can be done, Haunted Mansion notwithstanding. The only downside to The Old Dark House is that is hard to track. It was taken out of circulation for a long time and was even briefly considered to a “lost film.” It started appearing on TV infrequently against in the early 1990s and now occasionally pops up on Turner Classic Movies. If you are lucky enough to catch it on TCM set some time aside; it’s really worth it.
The Ghost Breakers
The Ghost Breakers. I have to confess to a little classic film heresy here. I never was a big fan of Bob Hope. About the only time Bob Hope looks good to me is when he’s up against the distinctly unlikable Bing Crosby. Frankly, I’m not a big fan of Bob Hope’s The Ghost Breakers, but any discussion of comic horror flicks because it was one of the pioneers. And, frankly, it is by far Hope’s most palatable film. He was never nearly as funny as Jack Benny, in my opinion, but in this film he almost comes close to being close. If you enjoy Ghostbusters you may just find yourself enjoying the Ghost Breakers. Personally, I prefer the remake that I will be discussing later.
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein is the quintessential comedic horror flick in that it works both as a pretty creepy movie and a hilarious A C; comedy. This is the best of the Abbott amp; Costello comedic horror films, though I do high recommended Hold That Ghost which is nearly as good. You might also enjoy Abbott amp; Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The fact is that when it comes to comedic horror movies, nobody did it better than Abbott amp; Costello. Abbott amp; Costello Meet Frankenstein also marks the only other time that Bela Lugosi actually played Dracula on film. He played other vampires a few times, but this is the only other appearance of Lugosi as the Count.
Scared Stiff is the remake of The Ghost Breakers I was telling you about. I prefer the remake because I find Jerry Lewis to be infinitely funnier than Bob Hope. Scared Stiff is actually a Martin and Lewis film that essentially has the same plot as The Ghost Breakers, but adds to the mix the delight of Dean Martin singing and Jerry Lewis doing his bit. The mixture of Jerry Lewis’ unique brand of surreal humor grounded in a movie about zombies is nearly perfect. You cannot do better unless you go with Abbott amp; Costello themselves.
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken was the big screen vehicle that transferred the immensely popular Don Knotts out of Mayberry and into the exceedingly difficult world of trying to transform TV stardom into movie stardom. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken is a much beloved classic for those who grew up in the 1960s, combining the dedicated comic appeal of Knotts’ nervous guy within the ambience of a house that may or may not be haunted. Without question this is the finest comedic horror film not to feature any comedy duos or teams. Attaboy Luther!
Young Frankenstein is a comedic horror flick that manages to escape beyond parody. This Mel Brooks remake of Son of Frankenstein (although it contains some elements of Bride of Frankenstein and very few elements of the original Frankenstein) is the gold standard for movies that combine horror with laughs. The non-talents who waste perfectly good celluloid by making those Scary Movies could learn about a million things from watching movies instead of making movies; watching movies like Young Frankenstein.
Ghostbusters was named the funniest movie of the past 25 years by Entertainment Weekly. Now is not the time to get into the fact that if you put together all the laughs from the 25 movies on Entertainment Weekly’s list together you still wouldn’t have as many as if you watched Bubble Boy, Nacho Libre and Raising Arizona back to back to back. Ghostbusters is perhaps the least funny movie on this list, but it is the most recent comedic horror film to be successful at combining humor and chills. That must count for something, I guess.